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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

Pure Reason Revolution

Live at NEARFest, June 2007

Review by Julie Knispel

One of the most interesting things about NEARfest, the NorthEast Art Rock Festival, is their willingness to book bands that might rest just outside the typical comfort area of the average progressive music fan. Whether it was Sleepytime Gorilla Museum in 2003 or Present in 2005, these bands tend to be the most provocative, with the widest disparity of opinion both pro and con.
While one would be a fool to compare Pure Reason Revolution to those bands from a stylistic standpoint, the fact remains that opinion of their performance at NEARfest 2007 was just as widely spread as for any of the more angular, avant garde acts the festival has historically booked.

One of the biggest reasons for this was the fact that the band is relatively new, with only one full length album (The Dark Third) to their credit, yet they were signed to the slot just before the festival headliner...a prestigious spot indeed. Beyond this, the band’s sound, which relies more on mood, electronics, and heavy doses of melodic hooks, is far and away different from the traditional symphonic progressive rock that tends to get the highest acclaim at festivals such as this. A Pure Reason Revolution set is more like a dance party or rave than it is a classical recital, and as such the band pushes buttons that tend to cause a degree of discomfort to old school proggers.

US fans, familiar with the domestic release of The Dark Third might have found the first few tracks the band played unfamiliar. Set opener “In Aurelia” was only released on the original UK release of the album, and for fans most familiar with the band’s trippier, lush atmospherics, the song must have come as a shock, as almost metallic rhythms and guitars drove this strident rock track to its conclusion. This was Pure Reason Revolution making a statement of intent; they were here, in the United States, and they were going to try their hardest to blow the roof off the place. Of course, moving into a quieter track like “Borgens Vor,” a formerly unreleased track (now included on the InsideOut Music reissue of The Dark Third) did a good job of diminishing the pure rock and roll attitude the band opened with, but it also served to show the expanse of sonic space the group is willing to explore.
     
Through it all, a fantastic light show, with heavy use of front projections and moody stage lighting, helped to create a dreamlike, outer space like performance zone. With the band recently diminished to a quartet (with the sacking of Jim Dobson late last year), and a new drummer, the moody lighting and projections helped to force attention off the band and onto the music and spectacle, which is likely the way the band likes it. Pure Reason Revolution, from a performance standpoint, seems to be more interested in creating events and happenings rather than being reverently stared at and analyzed, and they carry that across to their staging and presentation. They want the music to do the talking, not the musicians.

The main set included a trio of new tracks. “Victorious Cupid,” the best known of these, was officially released on the band’s MySpace earlier this year, and seems the logical continuation of the themes and styles explored on their debut album. It’s a slightly heavier track, filled to the brim with the trademark layered, multi-tracked harmonies and glistening guitars that typify the band’s sound. In concert, these lush harmonies are recreated through triggered samples, perhaps the only way 40 or 50 tracks of layered vocals could be presented in an effective manner. Also played out were a completely new track, “Deus Ex Machina,” and a track known only as “Disco Song,” loaded to the gills with dance/trance rhythms and enough energy to get a club of kids up and gyrating.

What was surprising, though perhaps less so with the smaller band lineup, was just how much additional needed to be triggered. Many drum loops would be triggered by new drummer Paul Glover, allowing for shifting layers of rhythm, while bassist/vocalist Chloe Alper would trigger many of the synth textures, violin and vocal samples. This allowed the band to recreate their album sound in a live context, but at the cost of being tied down to those samples and tapes. For some audience members, this would be a major stumbling block impeding their enjoyment of the show.

The band’s main set was, by NEARfest standards, quite short indeed, covering approximately 50 to 55 minutes. Considering that they were booked for a 90 minute slot, it left many people in the audience scratching their heads, especially as the band left the stage following the odd “Disco Song” without saying a word. They also had not performed more material off the US release of The Dark Third. To this point, only two tracks familiar to the majority of the audience had been performed; “The Bright Ambassadors of Morning” and “Voices in Winter/In the Realms of the Divine.” This would be resolved fairly quickly, as the band took the stage for what would best be termed either an extended encore or a brief second set. Layers of triggered synths led the band into the opening duo of tracks from The Dark Third, as “Aeropause/Goshen’s Remains” shifted them back toward more familiar territory. They followed this up with “Nimos & Tambos,” Chloe Alper comfortably handling the pulsing bass line while she and guitarist Jon Courtney harmonized fantastically.

Finally, the moment many hardcore US fans were waiting for arrived, as the band played their best-known track, “Arrival/The Intention Craft.” For many, this song was their “gateway drug,” introducing the band’s infectious sound to a new pair of ears. On stage it was exciting and energetic, with the audience feeding that energy through loud sing-alongs - while being seated and respectfully restrained, of course. With sweeps fading and dying in a round of applause, the band took center stage, bowed to the audience, and departed, leaving it to the assembled audience to dissect and pontificate about their performance.

In the final reckoning, the band’s “weaknesses” (stage presence, reliance on samples versus adding a new member, something they are not comfortable with considering at this moment) were greatly outweighed by one of the better stage shows (projections, lighting, et cetera) and a youthful energy level unrivalled by any other band on the line-up. Are they prog? Who knows? What they are, however, is energetic, lush, and willing to explore musical areas a lot of young bands wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. For this reviewer and attendee, that gives them more than enough right to have played at NEARfest.

The members area of our site includes a gallery with many more pictures from this concert - and all larger than the pics presented here.
     
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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